by Nathaniel R. Helms |
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 | Day Eight
Camp Pendleton, Calif. – Retired U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major Edward
T. Sax landed several heavy blows on the government’s battered and
bruised case against Haditha defendant SSgt Frank D. Wuterich Tuesday
“Wuterich was a great Marine,” he told the eight
member panel of officers and senior non-commissioned officers intently
watching the exchange between Sax and defense attorney Haytham Faraj.
Sax, considered by both the officers and man of
the Thundering Third to be a Marine’s Marine, told the panel of
officers and senior non-commissioned officers that Wuterich’s
decimated squad did it right when they blasted through two civilian
houses where 14 Iraqi civilians died after being ambushed at Haditha
more than six years ago.
Initially, chief prosecutor Maj. Nicholas Gannon compelled Sax to explain the
vast differences between the vicious, no-holds barred month long
battle at Fallujah in 2004 and the situation in Haditha almost a year
“What we did at Fallujah was something we never
did again. There they are… go kill them,” he said. “Haditha was not
Fallujah. Those conversations got emphasized before we got sent to
regain control of Haditha. This was not going to be Fallujah. We are
not pounding them down with artillery.”
“If I haven’t received fire I am not going to use
hand grenades. We’d clear in a little different way. Taking fire
from a structure in part dictates how you are going to clear that
“If I thought I received fire I am now going to
use hand grenades,” Sax told Maj. Gannon,
who then asked him what was the correct procedure for clearing a house
where civilians might be hiding after receiving fire.
“I’m going to frag the room before I go in it.
It was taught right at MOUT training. If I’m receiving fire, I’ve got
to assume the house is hostile… if I send Marines in there they are
going to get shot.”
in his testimony, Sax got down to cases when talking about what
happened on November 19, 2005 when one Kilo, 3/1 Marine was killed and
two more seriously wounded by a remotely detonated roadside bomb that
signaled the attack on a stunned squad of riflemen trying to take
cover on a hard surfaced road that didn’t offer any.
“On November 19, Haditha was more like Fallujah?”
Faraj asked during his cross-examination.
“Yes, I think it was,” Sax replied.
Sax said Haditha was considered hostile when 3/1
was sent there to wrest control of the region from the Al Qaeda-led
insurgency following the thrashing the insurgents had given to a
reserve battalion of Marines during its deployment. The difference was
the insurgents were smaller in number and far less aggressive – being
non-kinetic in Marine Corps jargon.
“Haditha was considered hostile because of what
happened to 3/25. I think it was Lima, 3/25 couldn’t even leave the
wire it had taken so many casualties from the same town, “Sax said.
Sax was the Sergeant Major of 3/1 Marines at both
Fallujah in November of 2004 and Haditha in 2005. He has a reputation
among veterans of the Thundering Third for showing up in the heat of
battle to lend a hand where he thought his Marines needed a little
morale boosting. During the remorseless Battle of Fallujah –
Operation Al Fajar/Phantom Fury – he was known to unlimber his M-16
and let loose with a few bursts whenever he got the opportunity, said
many of the Marines who served there with him.
The colorful career infantryman brought a ray of
sunshine into the courtroom after a morning of forensic testimony by
two experts that explained what all the holes, tears and “evacuated
skulls” in the dead civilians mean in the cold, hard light of science.
The forensic pathologists used their testimony to explain how
photographic forensic interpretation isn’t the best way to determine
how, when and why the men, woman and children killed that day had
died. Essentially, they agreed, the Marines had been very thorough
when they swept through two smoke-darkened houses in a vicious
counter-attack that lasted seconds rather than minutes.
Sax’s testimony is central to the defense theory
of innocence since the alleged massacre of 24 Iraqis was claimed by Time magazine
reporter Tim McGirk in March 2006.
Sax offered several analogies to explain how and
why Wuterich and his men acted the way they did when they assaulted
two houses in the dawn of November 19, 2005. In his opinion Marines
always return fire and counter attack when being shot at. Marines are
trained to attack with all the force they can muster, he explained.
They were taught to behave that way while in training. Like the others
who testified before him, Sax barely gave lip service to the concept of
“You got to know your Marines. They are like your
brothers; in combat they are your brothers. When a corporal makes his
men clean the toilets with their tooth brushes and feel good about it…
that is leadership.” he said. “Part of leadership is inspiring your
men to do things they don’t want to do.”
Sax was particularly vocal about the treatment 3rd
Platoon Kilo’s Marines endured while being questioned by the Naval
Criminal Investigative Service. Several Marines testified they were
held in a dungeon like room at the bottom of Haditha Dam where
insurgent suspects were usually interrogated. They testified they had
been questioned up to 16 hours straight without even being allowed to
“NCIS was interrogating your Marines, in one case
one Marine had to hold his pee until he signed his statement,” Faraj
Sax said that when he heard what was happening to
his Marines he went to the NCIS special agents and told them, “If one
of my Marines had to urinate they were to take their penis out and pee
on the table,” he said.
“One Marine said he signed his statement just so
he could pee?” Faraj asked.
“Yes, sir,” Sax replied.
Faraj then inquired in what other ways what
happened at Fallujah was different than the events at Haditha.
“At Fallujah we double fragged [threw two
fragmentation grenades] every room. “
Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
17 January 2012
Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our
Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war
correspondent, and, most recently, author of
My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).